Friday, 16 March 2018

BRUGES REVISTED


When we planned our trip to Bruges before Christmas, we couldn't have known how perfect our timing would be.  While the UK suffered a surprising downturn in the weather with freezing snow and ice, we were enjoying an unseasonably balmy couple of  days - complete with a little sunshine!

Regular followers will remember that Anne C and her daughter visited Bruges a couple of years ago, but Anne H had never been, so we decided to remedy that!

Living in Yorkshire, we were able to zip along the M62 to the port of Hull to catch the overnight P&O ferry to Zeebrugge - and they have some great deals during the winter months.  We went as foot passengers, though you can take your car if you want to drive at the other end.

Our comfortable cabin was complete with wine, crisps, biscuits and most importantly tea - while the adequate bathroom was stocked with Clinique toiletries - perfect!
We bought a dinner/breakfast package which was very reasonably priced, and the selection in "The Kitchen" self-service restaurant was varied and tasty.

We docked early in the morning and a coach took us into Bruges - a half hour drive - dropping us off at the Red Bridge, which was less than a 10 minute walk to our hotel - Hotel Academie, which we can highly recommend.


The hotel was absolutely lovely - and again very reasonably priced since we went mid-week.  The decor was quirky - with the reception area boasting a poster of the film "In Bruges" starring the lovely Colin Farrell, so they are used to British tourists!

Our room was beautifully decorated with large twin beds, a coffee table and a couple of easy chairs - with more tea and a bar of chocolate - of course!




If you have never been to Belgium, it is noted for its chocolate, chocolate and chocolate.  There are chocolate shops absolutely everywhere, and they are always happy to let you have a sample too - it would be rude not to! There is even a chocolate museum, although since Anne C had already visited that last time, we decided to give it a miss and just buy some.

The Old Chocolate House  is a family run business, selling every kind of hot chocolate and chocolate covered waffles - chocolate heaven!  We headed upstairs into the cafe area for a hot chocolate drink which was as filling as any meal, then back downstairs to make sure we bought some to bring home. The decor is very traditional, while the chocolate drinks have a modern twist - a jug of hot milk, a large mug and a chocolate cup which you just dunk into the mug and watch it melt!



The city is incredibly pretty, criss-crossed by the waterways which made Bruges the economic centre of north-west Europe in centuries gone by.  Unfortunately for them, the harbour silted over and the trade ships went elsewhere, but the legacy is of beautiful canals and rivers.


We jumped on a City Tour minibus which for 20 euros took us around the city and headphones linked to recordings in 16 different languages gave us a great overview of Bruges and whetted our appetite for the things we wanted to visit.



There are more museums in Bruges than you can possibly visit in a couple of days - from Flemish Primitives to contemporary art, archeological finds, furniture, silver, a torture museum and even a chip museum - otherwise known as the Freitmuseum in the Saaihalle, one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.

We opted to visit two of the museums, the St John Hospital Museum with its apothecary, and the diamond museum. The Sint-Janshospital is one of the oldest preserved buildings in Europe, and although there are no longer any beds there, artwork depicting how the building would have looked adorn the walls, while chests, cupboards and pewterware are still on show. There is very little to show that it actually was a hospital - most of the exhibits there are artworks rather than medical equipment, and since it was staffed by nuns, who tended to pilgrims, travellers, the poor and the sick, there are many religious artefacts. The  pharmacy/apothecary - just a short walk away and part of the complex - has changed very little since 1634, and features beautiful old jars, pots and jars used by the nuns to administer their medicines.  In fact the apothecary was in use until as recently as 1971. 



The diamond museum was a little gem, if you'll pardon the pun!  Bruges was once the centre of the diamond industry - long before Amsterdam and Antwerp.  In fact, history details diamond polishers in the city as early as the 14th Century. Since Bruges was a very prosperous city, it makes sense that there was a high demand for luxury goods, epitomised by the wealthy Dukes of Burgundy.  From diamonds to exquisite lace, paintings to sculptures, Bruges had it all.

As well as museums, there are any number of beautiful churches and cathedrals for every denomination. The 13th Century The Church of our Lady houses one of the most famous statues in the world - that of Michelangelo's Madonna and Child, which is freely on display.  The church is currently undergoing extensive renovations, so despite notices asking for silence, the  church resounding to the noise of drills and banging!




The centre of Bruges is the famous marketplace - dominated by the 83 metre bell tower.  We actually gave this a miss since we are both scared of heights (Anne C attempted to go up last time but turned back half way up because it was so scary - very narrow vertical stairs with only a rope handrail and people coming down the same stairs as you were trying to climb upwards).  We are told the view is phenomenal from the top, but too much for us!






The market place is very much the heart of the city, and was previously a centre of entertainment.  By that we mean this is where the executions were held - criminals were either hung or beheaded, festivals were held, and commercial deals struck. Nowadays this is where you catch your tour bus or pick up your horse and carriage - very much aimed at tourists.

The historic centre -  the Burg square - around the corner from the market place, are the Gothic the council buildings, the Palace of the Liberty of Bruges, and are a UNESCO World Heritage site. Tucked away in the corner is the 12th Century Basilica of the Holy Blood, a Roman Catholic church housing the blood of Christ, which was brought from the Holy Land by the Duke of Flanders.


Back to the market place, and it is easy to see why it is so heavily photographed - such beautiful buildings, filled with restaurants and bars, and a stone's throw from the shopping district, rich with local lace, tapestries, artworks, perfumes and of course chocolate!










We have given just a flavour of this lovely city - and our trip there was just a flying visit.  There is so much more to see and do - walking tours, beer tours, exhibitions and activities in which you can join, with so many places to eat and drink.  On our last day we found the perfect place to eat, and while we only had time for a toasted sandwich in the deli at the Cafe Cambrinus, we would love to go back and eat in the lovely restaurant Brasserie Cambrinus in Philipstockstraat just a couple of doors away.  Maybe next time....



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